The Transect Line – June 2011 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
Reef Check Florida Revitalized Reef Check Malaysia Expands Education Program
Reef Check California Update New EcoDivers Trained in Curacao
First RC California Community Training in Fort Bragg Guam Students Complete Reef Check Training
Technical Question of the Month Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala 2011
Successful Reef Check EcoExpedition in Honduras    
Reef Check Florida Revitalized

By Mike Readling of Ocean Rehab Initiative

The Southeast Florida Reef Tract extends nearly half the length of Florida’s East Coast, stretching from the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County, all the way down to the Florida Keys.

It is a long run that slithers outward from close to shore towards the continental shelf. It ranges in depth from a few feet below the surface to almost 100 feet in several places. For this reason, the sheer size of the tract is intimidating enough to scare away even the most seasoned marine biologist. It’s just one of the reasons the Southeast Florida Reef Tract has never been surveyed.

Ocean Rehab Initiative recently launched its Florida Reef Project, the goal of which is to employ certified citizen divers to survey the entire length of the reef, creating the first baseline survey.

Thanks to grants from private local sponsors and the Wendy and Royall Victor III Fund for Environment and Landmark Preservation of the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties, the coral reef initiative is off to a flying start!

Ocean Rehab has held three certification classes, instructing a total of 24 citizen Reef Check EcoDivers about how to survey a reef, which species to catalog, and how to document them properly. These divers are certified to Reef Check standards, free of charge, in exchange for four survey dives over the next two years.

As soon as classes ended and the divers received their new certifications, the surveys began rolling in. Data from the reef line off of Palm Beach and Martin counties has already been compiled and those numbers are expected to grow exponentially as the summer continues.

“This is a very exciting time for Ocean Rehab Initiative,” said William Djubin, President of Ocean Rehab. “The classes have gone great. The divers are very enthusiastic about the opportunity to help save the coral reefs. And we have gotten some fantastic support from our community as we expand the program.”

All the information from those surveys will be used to develop the first baseline of that reef system, which will then be used to evaluate reef health now and for years to come, as well as assist with proper management of the reef.

Ocean Rehab Initiative has spent the past two years emphasizing the importance of creating a baseline for this reef system, enlisting dive shops up and down the coast to open up seats on their boats for divers performing surveys. The organization has met with dive clubs from universities all over Florida, receiving huge support from students, many of whom will be receiving their certification and performing survey dives.

The Ocean Rehab Initiative Scientific Advisory Board is filled with world renowned scientists, all of whom have donated their time and expertise in order to make the Reef Project a success.

“I have been very pleased with the response from everyone we’ve spoken to about the Florida Reef Project,” Djubin said. “The universities have been spectacular. We will be at DEMA in November for the first time. It’s all falling into place very well. Of course, the key to this whole project is finding funding. We have several funding opportunities still open, but we need to find more funders if we are going to make this project a success.”

If you wish to support Ocean Rehab Initiative’s Florida Reef Project, you can contact Mike Readling, Community Outreach Coordinator, at (772) 631-2679 or

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Reef Check California Update
By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald

In June, Reef Check California has continued to train and recertify our volunteer citizen scientists. We have trained a total of 188 divers this year so far and still have several trainings coming up. About 120 of these are returning Reef Checkers, and with this dedicated group we have made much head way in surveying sites up and down the California coast. We have already added new sites this year and have started working with a new partner on Catalina, the Emerald Bay Camp, on surveying additional sites on the north end of the island. We have also surveyed several sites along the Mendocino County coast where we were lucky with the ocean conditions early in the year. With our new team of volunteers in the northern part of the state we are hoping to add more sites in this under-monitored region later this year (see report on our first training in Fort Bragg). One of the highlights of our surveys this year was the sighting of giant sea bass on one of our transects in San Diego. This is a first for us – we see these large critically endangered fish sometimes during our surveys but we had never recorded one on our transects (see technical question of the month).

We are looking forward to continuing our surveys throughout the state this season and further expand our network of sites as we have done every year to include some previously unmonitored reefs in our network of RCCA sites. If you are an RCCA diver and would like to join us for surveys, go to the RCCA forum for survey dates and locations. If you have not yet been recertified this year there are always opportunities to practice and become a current Reef Checker on surveys. Check out the dates and sites and come along for fun and exciting Reef Check surveys this diving season!

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First Reef Check California Community Training Held in Fort Bragg

By Reef Check California North-Central Regional Manager Megan Wehrenberg

Last month we held our first Reef Check community training in Fort Bragg, a town along the beautiful and rugged coast of northern California. We were originally contacted last year by community members who have been active participants in the north coast MLPA (Marine Life Protection Act), the legislation behind a network of newly established marine protected areas (MPAs) going in along the coast of California. Many ocean lovers in the area have been following the decision-making process that has been underway here for the last couple of years. An important aspect to the MLPA is that California is utilizing an “adaptive management” approach to the MPAs, meaning that the sites will be actively monitored and perhaps modified as more is learned about how systems respond to the protections put in place. A number of community members are interested in being part of those monitoring efforts, lending a hand, and learning even more about the coastal areas where they spend so much time. By becoming Reef Check California divers they can play an active role in surveying the nearshore rocky reef ecosystems, helping inform local management decisions.

We were pleased by the turnout of eight exceptional divers from our training program, many of whom came armed with valuable past experiences to add to the mix, including commercial urchin fishing and research diving for the Department of Fish and Game. We had informative classroom sessions at the coastal bluff campus of the College of the Redwoods. Here the trainees learned the Reef Check protocol and shared their own invaluable knowledge of the coastline and safe diving sites. A couple weeks later we held the diving portion of the training at the protected dive site at Van Damme State Park. It was a learning experience for all. Our trainees learned how to do fish, invertebrate, seaweed, and UPC transects, and I discovered you can you still have (surprisingly) beautiful dives in the protected coves of the area with a 8ft 16sec swell, as long as the swell is coming from the NW! 

During our time in Fort Bragg, RC staff member Narineh and I spent time scouting the coastline for new sites both inside and outside of the newly proposed MPAs. We talked to local divers and coastal landowners and were met with lots of support and enthusiasm. We are very excited to add several new sites to the list and continue to expand the program in this region. Since the training, Narineh has returned to the area and surveyed one site with the help of some of our newly trained Fort Bragg volunteers. Way to go team Nor Cal!

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Technical Question of the Month

Each month, Reef Check will answer a technical question regarding the monitoring protocol of our coral reef or rocky reef programs. If you have a question you would like answered, please email

Reef Check California – Why does RCCA record some species even if they are not on transects?

During our Reef Check California surveys we record 73 species of fish, invertebrates and algae. Most of them are only recorded if we encounter them on one of the transect lines we lay out to estimate their population densities. Some species we also record if we encounter them anywhere on the survey dive; they do not have to be on one of our measured transects.

If we record them and they are not associated with a transect, we cannot determine their population density; so why do we record them nevertheless? This is the case for one fish, two invertebrate and four algae species. The reason for recording them this way is different for the algae and animal species. The fish we record anywhere is the giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas) and the two invertebrate species are white (Haliotis sorenseni) and black (Haliotis craherodii) abalone. These three species are all listed as endangered species. Therefore, noting the occurrence of these species is critical in order to record the presence of these rare species. Over the six years of data collection we have observed only 12 occurrences of giant sea bass and have not seen any black or white abalone.

The seaweeds we record anywhere are recorded for a different reason- they are not endangered, but rather invasive species. We are recording their presence so that their spread along the coast can be tracked, as is the case for the Sargassum species we record, or so that action can be taken to eradicate them if they should occur at our sites, as for the Undaria and Caulerpa species we record.

All seven species are therefore unique in that even the occurrence of one individual can be of great importance and reporting their presence can lead to significant management action.

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Successful Reef Check EcoExpedition in Honduras

Submitted by Biosphere Expeditions' Kathy Gill

This March, a small international team of volunteers joined a Biosphere Expeditions trip to Honduras to undertake important Reef Check surveys on some beautiful sites in a marine protected area just off the coast. The team was made up of qualified divers with lots of dive experience, but no knowledge of Reef Check – they left with an amazing experience under their belts, a brilliant knowledge of coral reef ecosystems and having contributed a whole load of important data to the worldwide fight to understand what is happening to our reefs. The following are extracts from the team’s diary:

21 March
Today saw the first aquatic day for the Honduras Reef Check expedition. The team of eleven are all experienced divers and after a day spent brushing up on critical skills such as buoyancy control, they are ready to go underwater with the tools of research.

We are on the Cayos Islands, between the Honduran mainland and the Bay Islands, in a fantastic location where we find ourselves marveling over hummingbirds, big iguanas, pink boas (not the feather variety) and fluorescent green tree lizards on a daily basis. That's to say nothing of the life beneath the waves.

Tomorrow we will be running the first trial underwater survey. It will be a challenging exercise as it entails the use of various apparatuses, the identification and counting of numerous indicator species and the usual load of regular diving-related tasks. I've no doubt the crew will shine in their duties.

24 March
We are now well into the survey phase and the team has come together as a well oiled critter-counting machine. The set-up of the sites for the Reef Checks is quick and the processing of the sites enjoyable and efficient. People are logging their data before lunch and with very little direction. All this after only two days of actual surveys!

We’ve also fit in a visit to the school that is set up on one of the nearby islands. The children are taken here by boat from the neighbouring islands and it is great to be able to come here and talk to them about what we are doing and how they can help to protect the life in the seas all around them. It’s also fun to hear their ideas and stories.

27 March
A well-earned day off from survey diving was almost unanimously spent diving! The three team members who did not come to the Roatan Banks for a morning of pleasure diving, walked through the lush and beautiful rainforest of the island. Those who did dive the Banks saw something big- the first person to put their head under the water came up swearing in three different languages. “WHALE SHARK” and the boat ditched its contents like a cliff full of lemmings. We spent the next 10 minutes following the world’s biggest fish as it rose and fell below us. I have seldom seen a more excited bunch of divers in nearly 25 years of diving. The Roatan Banks seamount itself was pretty awesome as well, absolutely pristine, with visibility at easily 30m and probably more.

Tomorrow morning we plunge back into the surveys, reinvigorated and doubly aware of what it is that we are working to protect.

30 March
The final day of data collection has capped off a perfect sequence of survey dives. We had a dive without our slates to celebrate the completion of a very successful expedition. All that remains is to pack it all up and ship out, which we will do over the next day, our last on Cayos Cochinos.

Thanks to the team and the fantastic support crew!

The Honduras EcoExpedition is the first of three this year organized by Biosphere Expeditions, upcoming are trips in September to the Maldives and an October trip to Musandam, Oman. If you are interested in joining an expedition, please visit

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Reef Check Malaysia Expands Education Program

Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia

In March of 2011, our first environmental education program was implemented at three schools in Dungun, Terengganu. The program was funded by CIMB and supported by the Tanjong Jara Resort. The schools selected to participate in this program, SK Kuala Abang, SK Seberang Dungun, and SK Pulau Serai, varied in terms of size and student body. We also worked with the Tanjong Jara Resort to run the program for a group of children from the Garden International School in Kuala Lumpur and Kuantan.

This half-day program consisted of three station games, namely Build Your Own Reef, the Sustainable Fishing game, and the Turtle Action game (by the Turtle Conservation Centre). Each contains lessons on the importance of coral reefs, the need for sustainable marine resource management, and the life cycle of sea turtles. In addition to the station games, we held a coloring competition for students in Standard 5, and six prizewinners were selected from each school to participate in a snorkeling trip, provided by the Resort. At the end of the program, all participants were given Reef Check Malaysia stickers to remind them of the small steps they can take toward protecting the environment.

The program was met with an enthusiastic response from both students and teachers. As a head-teacher from SK Seberang Dungun noted, “This is a good opportunity for the children to be exposed to environmental education. Our students do not get opportunities like this often compared to urban school children.” A parent of the winners commented, “My son was so excited about this program. He told me of the lessons he learnt in the program and how he went diving in the pool. I could see he enjoyed himself very much.” A teacher who accompanied the winners agreed: “Programs like this are essential for the students’ development. These are activities where they cannot obtain from day to day classroom settings.”

We would like to thank our sponsors for making this program possible and express our hope that the program will be expanded to other coastal schools in the near future.

In addition, the Rainforest to Reef (R2R) Programme for the Marine Park Island schools has continued to run in 2011, marking its 3rd year in existence. The first supporting activity was successfully carried out on all three islands: Tioman, Perhentian and Redang. A total of 100 students participated in the program, in addition to the 20 Alstom staff who volunteered as program facilitators. The children were given the opportunity to appreciate nature through a jungle trekking activity, learning about the importance of the forest ecosystem through station games along the jungle tracks. A poster drawing competition was held in the latter part of the program to encourage participants to express their creativity. Our thanks go out to Berjaya Hotels and Resorts in Tioman and Redang, Flora Bay Resort, and Watercolours Dive Centre in Perhentian for assisting us with the transport of participants.

Reef Check Malaysia also has started annual EcoDiver survey trips this year with the assistance of our highly committed certified EcoDivers. Thanks to their efforts, numerous surveys have been conducted so far in Redang, Perhentian, and Tioman. More surveys are scheduled for Bidong (July 22-24th) and Tenggol (September 9-11th).

For more information, visit the Reef Check Malaysia website or email

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New EcoDivers Trained in Curacao

Submitted by Reef Check Curacao Coordinator, Marjo van den Bulck

Curacao, a small island in the southern Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela, is the site of some of Reef Check’s most recent training rounds. Within two training sessions, most of the volunteers from Reef Care Curacao became certified Reef Check EcoDivers.

The picture shows the participants and trainers from the first round of training. The second training session took place in April, and added four more certified divers to the team.

Reef Care Curacao has been collecting monitoring data since 1994. Twice a year, a Reef Check EcoDiver Training is offered for new Reef Care volunteers to ensure that we are able to continue sending accurate, up-to-date data to Reef Check. Reef Care Curacao currently has a very enthusiastic and motivated group of volunteers, and the Reef Check EcoDiver Training has certainly contributed to this.

Great thanks go to Uniek Curacao for generously offering the use of their meeting room and facilities.

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Guam Students Complete Reef Check Training

Submitted by Susan Hieter of Reef Check Guam

The students of St. Johns School of Guam's Marine Science class completed their EcoDiver/Snorkeler Reef Check survey on May 19, 2011 at Ypao Beach in Tumon Bay, Guam. The students who participated are 10th and 11th graders at the school. Some of my students are snorkelers rather than divers, so we surveyed this area because it is a snorkel reef. Tumon Bay is a tourist beach where many snorkelers observe the coral. Another characteristic of the area which makes it ideal for monitoring is that it experiences numerous tide changes, and some of the reef is exposed at low tide. The corals here are at risk, but with the help of the lifeguards and other environmentally-conscious people, they are making a comeback. We plan to survey this area biannually to monitor the reef’s health, and hope to see regular improvements. Unfortunately, invertebrates and large indicator fish are scarce. The goal for this course is to promote awareness of the marine environment in my students, who in turn will pass this knowledge on to their parents, family and friends.

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Get Your Tickets! Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala 2011

Join Reef Check's efforts to “Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans” at this year's gala fundraiser!

On Friday, September 16, we will celebrate the important work of the Reef Check Foundation, on the sand, at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica, California. It will be a casual “toes in the sand” evening featuring never-before-seen footage from the world’s leading underwater filmmakers along with an opportunity to meet some of the thousands of volunteer divers who monitor these essential natural resources.

The evening will also recognize the contributions of three “Heroes of the Reef” each having demonstrated an exemplary commitment to ocean conservation. Marine artist Wyland, famous for his Whaling Walls, has long promoted the urgency of protecting and preserving the world’s oceans, waterways and marine life through his artwork and the work of the Wyland Foundation. Emmy Award-winning underwater filmmakers Michele and Howard Hall, best known for their underwater IMAX films, will be recognized for extraordinary achievement in film and photography inspiring millions around the world to appreciate and protect their oceans.

Tickets can be purchased online at

Sponsorship opportunities are available, please click here for more information. If you would like to donate an item for our silent auction, please download our auction donation form.